A post on Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational draws our attention to Google as a source of data for all sorts of research into human emotions. Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, believes that by using drop down suggestions in Google, we can gain insights into “what people might care the most about concerning a given topic. When people search a particular political leader, what are their main concerns? What are people secretly guilty about? For better or for worse, Google’s obsession with collecting and refining data has given us a window into each other’s fascinating and telling curiosities.”
But we think that this argument can go some additional distance. When it comes to medicine, this kind of data insight could be used to formulate and implement well designed public policy initiatives. If properly searched and defined, the data could be stratified according to sex, social class, age, etc. Using Dr. Ariely’s example, shown above, we gain a look at sexuality issues of young people. But the same technique, for example, can help us take a look at how the elderly understand diabetes.
The other side of the same coin, as we have argued before, is Google’s responsibility to deliver accurate and responsible medical search results. Even though some might argue that what is delivered in search results is not Google’s responsibility per se, as these reflect the conversations on the internet, nevertheless we do think what Google suggests in the drop down menu is indeed Google’s responsibility. According to a discovery by PZ Myers, Google has a mechanism to control the drop down suggestions.
We hope that with Google’s help in balancing the forces of responsibility and transparency that we can harness the implicit data that exists when millions of people are trying to learn more about their health.